16/05/2007

Glamorous Powers (by Susan Howatch)

'Glamorous Powers' is the second in Susan Howatch's superb 'Starbridge' series about clergymen in the Church of England, during the 20th century. It's complete in itself, but best read after 'Glittering Images'.

Jon Darrow is the hero of this book. No longer seen as the wise, mature counsellor through Charles Ashworth's eyes, Jon is the narrator of this book, and an entirely different side of his character emerges.

The story opens with Jon, an Anglican monk, having a vision of a chapel. He believes this is part of a call to leave the monastery and resume work in the world. In order for this to happen, he must persuade the Abbot-General. Unfortunately for Jon, Francis Ingram, the new Abbot-General, is an old rival of his, and they have never seen eye to eye. At first it appears that this is because Francis is a rather dull, upper-class twit who has managed to manipulate his way into the affections of the previous Abbot-General, but as the book progresses it becomes clear that Francis does have a great deal of wisdom, and that he has Jon's (and God's) best interests at heart. The problem is Jon's own hang-ups, which are cleverly and gradually revealed as the book progresses.

The writing is excellent, mirroring Jon's own opinion that getting to the root of people's problems is like gradually taking more and more layers off an onion. Jon's pride and arrogance are clearly shown, in his lack of honesty with several people who he cares for, and in particular in the rather poor relationship he has with his adult children. Yet he doesn't think of himself as overly proud or arrogant, and frequently deceives himself as he plunges into one disaster after another.

It's an excellent book, one I could barely put down despite having read it in 2000, and again in 2001. I was no longer shocked or surprised by things that I didn't expect the first time I read it, but I was moved to tears afresh by one short passage, and utterly gripped by the time I neared the end.

Unfortunately - and surprisingly - this book is currently out of print in the UK, but still in print in the USA. Widely available second-hand in both countries.

Highly recommended.

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